It is great when you spend time working with an integrator to implement an MES system, your team starts using it and within the first couple of days has new insights into your process. You might even see a big return on your investment in the first few weeks.
If you are lucky this system will form the foundation of your operational intelligence and will grow with your company as you use it to change how you operate.
This is a surprisingly easy outcome to achieve and many companies get there without much hassle.
What About the Rest
Some companies don’t end up in this position. They may have a system in place for a year and still not see any change in their company, or a return on their investment.
Their people will be frustrated, whoever wrote the checks for the project will be breathing down someone’s neck to get their returns, and someone may even see the chopping block. We have seen it all.
Failure Is an Option, Not a Necessity
Why do some companies hit a home run, while some drop the ball?
Having been involved in projects with both outcomes, I think the dividing line is simple. The companies who start with fundamental principles and leave their ego at the door crush it, and the ones who want to innovate and put their stamp on things before the system is even in place get crushed.
Isn’t Innovation the Idea?
We all want to do things in new and interesting ways. It keeps our lives exciting and makes it easy to put our nose to the grindstone every day. To be able to do things in new ways means you first need to understand the building blocks.
Whatever you want to call it 10,000 hours of practice, mastery, or a lifelong pursuit, it takes hard work, practice, and an understanding of the basics to reach the next level of something. This process repeats until you become as great as you want to be.
MES Systems are no different.
Building Blocks of Success
What are the fundamentals?
The process we have used for successful projects starts with a couple of basic principles, and depending on the personality of the team and the culture of the company we collectively decide where to go from there.
The first princicple is to start with data validation. We figure out what the inputs to the MES System need to be, and make sure that we can collect what we need, or implement the tools to get what we need into a useable format. This is a mix of PLCs, Historians, Database integrations, and even manual data entry.
Once we have valid data, we move into the most basic level of analysis with a trending tool. This approach works for most applications and an answer a lot of questions with the least amount of effort. Want to know how long something has been in a particular tank? Pull up the tank level, see when it was low, and count the number of days it has been high. You don’t need to write a batch tracking system to figure it out.
Once we have valid data and a way to look at it, only then do we start to get into specific tools and tactics.
The first tool we implement on successful projects is conversation. I know, you were coming here to see how to make back your money on day one and I’m telling you to sit down and talk to someone. Trust me, it works.
Keep it simple to start. We have data, we have a tool to analyze it, we want tools to turn it into information. We have a variety of them at our disposal, OEE, reports, Excel, a fully integrated product lifecyle management system. Leave all of those on the shelf and first ask some questions.
This stage is high level, what would you want in an ideal world type things.
What do your people wnat to get out of this system?
How should it work?
What steps from their current processes can we eliminate to make it easy to use?
Is there anything we can expose to non-subject matter experts to make it easy for them to use the tools too?
What gets us 80% of the way there with 20% of the effort?
Yes your people will give great insights, and probably have some bad ideas too. No problem at all. The key component of this process is to get people excited about the project, get their input so they can point to something they own because they came up with it, and make sure we develop a system they will use.
A good integrator will manage the conversation flow to keep it on topic, relevant, and designs within reason during this phase.
Once you have had a conversation with one person or process area, pick the right tools for the job then implement a minimum viable solution for their needs.
Work to get something in front of your people as soon as you can.
A Mile Wide and an Inch Deep
Once you have a basic tool in place, turn it over to the team, show them how to use it and let them hammer out the issues. Functionality may need to be added, data may need to be integrated, and things may need to go back to the drawing board. Better to do this after investing a day on a conversation and a couple days on development than to find out the same things a year from now.
Give them some time to beat the system into submission, and while they are doing that, go talk to the next group. Repeat, and when you have covered your bases, circle back around and iterate with the first group.
After your team has used the tools for a few days or a couple weeks, they will know what needs to be added, changed, and deleted. Take care of those needs, and move into the continuous improvement phase where you improve the system as your systems improve.
But I Really Want to Fail, I Just Gotta
Or don’t do any of this. Try and come up with some innovative design, ignore our experience, and spend a year developing a tool to cover every possible business case you can dream up without ever putting it in front of your people to use.
At the end of those 12 months when they do get their hands on it, they are going to find all of the same faults with the system, things to add and change, and go through the whole process we went through on a successful project, only with 12 more months of not getting the value out of your investment.
Because Corso really likes to do things the right way try and get us to do your project the second way. I dare you.